If you’re like me, the fact that the Second Sunday of Advent has come and gone doesn’t mean you have your Advent figured out.
(If you’re not like me, feel free to brew some coffee and smile.)
This year, somehow, despite all the usual floundering, I’ve found myself with an odd sense of peace. I’m not flustered or stressed about the fact that the Advent wreath seems to be the WORST IDEA EVER with a certain two-year-old mancub in the house. I’m not bemoaning the fact that, with a shelf full of Advent resources and books, none of them seem quite right.
Two of the new Advent resources that have come my way this year have to do with Mary. I love a good Mary book, and I’m delighted to have found these two.
I didn’t realize Holding Jesus: Reflections on Mary the Mother of God, by Alfred McBride, was designed to be an Advent devotion until I picked it up last week (in part because I just felt pulled to the cover).
It has three sections: Holding the Child Jesus, which are short reflections for each day of Advent; Holding Jesus During His Adult Ministry; and Holding Jesus During His Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Sending of the Spirit.
The reflections are accessible and poignant in places. They each have Bible readings, an inspirational quote, a reflection, one question, and a prayer.
I particularly liked the simple format: instead of a page of questions, you get just one for each reflection. And it’s a good one.
I’ll admit: I read it all at once. That said, the journey that’s within these pages is one that I appreciate and will be revisiting again–and not just during Advent. I love that it doesn’t try to be a devotional for all year long, but rather focuses on Advent and offers 14 other devotions that apply to the rest of the year.
Advent is a time of year, though, that applies to us all year long. It happens so fast, we often need that processing time when it’s over. I’m only just realizing that this year, thanks to some of the great reading I’ve done.
Here’s an excerpt from Thursday of the Second Week of Advent, which has the theme “John the Baptist Is the Voice–Jesus Is the Word”:
The reason John was so effective was that his voice was filled with Christ the Word. The voice without the word touches the ear, but fails to move the heart. Augustine told his congregation that he searched for a way to share with their hearts what was in his heart. Cardinal Newman expressed Augustine’s point in his motto, Cor ad cor loquitur (“My heart speaks to your heart”). What is the Word? Jesus is God’s Word of infinite love.
As we walk with Mary through Advent, we marvel at how completely she united her heart to God’s. After all, she is carrying the Word made flesh within her. She had been touched by God. In a sense she is also touching God. Her union with her child is both physical and spiritual. When he is born she could “worship the beloved with a kiss” as Christina Rossetti said in the verse above. Gazing at this remarkable scene, St. Ambrose is moved to coin a sentence that rings true more than ever today. “Christian, remember your dignity.” God chose to honor human beings with his intimate union with humanity and purify us from sin. An innocent mother will soon kiss the supremely innocent baby. Now that’s really heart speaking to the heart!
A Mary Christmas, by Kathleen M. Carroll, is just as beautiful of a book, with a different approach. In seven chapters, Carroll uses the seven joys of Mary to guide us to Christmas.
Each reflection is personal. They’re not long, but they’ll make you think and consider.
You can read them quickly, because you’ll want to keep reading (guilty of that myself), or you can read them slowly, savoring the stretch you feel within. They’re not cluttered with extras, and I appreciate that I can ask myself questions at the end of the chapter (am I the only one slightly burned out from all the reflection questions in every single book lately?).
Carroll’s relationship with Mary is one I’d like to emulate. As she writes, you get the feeling that Mary must be sitting right beside her, guiding her words.
Here’s an example, from the first chapter on the Annunciation:
History doesn’t tell us what Mary wore that day of the Annunciation. We don’t know what prayers she used, whether it was morning or evening, winter or summer. What we do know is that she was ready when the question came and recognized it for what it was. We know that she wasn’t so caught up in her own designs that she dismissed this offer (“I can’t think about this right now, I have a wedding to plan!”). And we know that, when her own course of life had been thwarted, she did not regret what she was leaving behind. She recognized this new path, full of sorrows though it would be, as a great gift and as the best life she could hope to give.
We will get such an offer this season. In fact, it might be waiting for our response right now. Is it to limit our holiday spending so we can create a celebration for a family that could not otherwise afford it? Is it to include that bitter cousin or weird uncle in our gatherings? Is it simply to smile through the traffic, the lines, the ten thousandth carol?
Each moment is an Annunciation, offering us the chance to bring Christ into the world through every word and action. This Christmas, embrace the risks and say yes.
Whether you put these books on your wish list for next year or buy them now, I highly recommend them.